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Ten Questions: Signing a Service Level Agreement

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How many of us have been frustrated by the technical support—or lack thereof—for the hardware and software we use? Imagine that frustration multiplied by the number of users who can’t access your content because of server downtime or other technical problems.

When entering into a contract with a content delivery network (CDN) or hosting provider, the terms of the service level agreement (SLA) are just as important as the price. Here are ten questions you should ask before you sign an SLA.

Are you really giving me a service level agreement that can be enforced?
Make sure that what you are signing is not just a "statement of services." Service statements are useful when you are negotiating a rate card and setting expectations for the systems and applications you will be using, but they are not service level agreements.

The terms and conditions of service delivery need to be specific. SLA management will need to be outlined and agreed upon as well as how the service levels will be enforced with remediation both in financial adjustments and services.

The SLA is not just about uptime; it is about performance and response time. Make sure the service and management elements are both present and adequate in order to ensure you are getting a true service level agreement.

This is a contract negotiation. Create a list of key terms or a glossary that will make the entire process run more efficiently during the red-line stage. Streaming media is still in its adolescence, and we as an industry throw tech-terms around a little too freely, which leaves them open to interpretation. There is no room for ambiguity in a solid, enforceable SLA. Protect the interests of your enterprise and include the definitions of "service level agreement" and even "enforceable" in your glossary.

Do I have the people and resources in place to support my relationship with a CDN?
Before starting the process of negotiating an SLA, you must have the people or resources on call to facilitate the process. In some cases your enterprise may have a strategic sourcing or procurement group to assist in this process; your organization may also require a technology and financial risk assessment as part of a formal review. The effort made to finalize an agreement with a CDN can be very intense, and you need to be sure the company you select is financially stable and will be in business long enough to make the effort of the negotiations worthwhile.

A formal RFP (request for proposal) may need to be drafted and sent out to the CDNs you choose to review; most enterprise firms have a standard process for this.

People from the following areas should be involved with the selection and fulfillment process from your side and the CDN under consideration:

Technical contacts for network, desktop, and end-user support—you will need to seek out your champions in these areas to help rally for a mandate in your organization. Technical support from an enterprise network engineering team may be difficult to get at first, but if the business wants to webcast, you will find an advocate in there somewhere, even if you have to dig. Consider establishing a core online video technology support team that can assist with the integration of a CDN into the enterprise environment. When the webcasting or on-demand delivery begins, you will need to have already predicted all that could go wrong and be prepared for disaster recovery if need be. Your organization will need to decide early if technical support will come from within or without (provided by the CDN or a third party).

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